Why Content Marketing ROI is Back to Front

Why Content Marketing ROI is Back to Front

The Content Marketing Institute released the 2016 Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends for Australia report a few days ago, and I’ve been stewing over exactly what these numbers mean for the local industry.

As Joe Pulizzi’s initial wrap-up points out, there are some interesting anomalies in here that invite interpretation and further investigation. But as Joe has already looked at these in some detail, I thought I’d focus on one particular area that leapt out at me.

Show Me the Money!

When I run workshops, I’m always quizzed on how to measure content marketing or social media ROI. In most cases, I suspect it isn’t the marketer actually doing the asking. Instead, they’re channelling a question from a boss who needs more convincing that what they’re already doing is actually benefitting the business.

In short, it’s about retrospective justification, not strategic measurement.

The ROI question pops up again in the new report. The most common challenge may be ‘Producing engaging content’ (69%), but the number two slot is taken by ‘Measuring the ROI of Content Marketing Program’ (54%).

This, for me, remains the key to understanding many of the other responses in the report. It also reveals a lot about what we mean by effectiveness and the quality of the strategy—documented or otherwise.

Top 5 Challenges for Australian Content Marketers

No ROI = No Strategy

So, here’s my thing.

If you don’t know how to measure the ROI of your strategy, you don’t have a strategy. If you don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of your content, you don’t have a strategy. A strategy should define both effectiveness and ROI with agreed upfront KPIs because your strategy should be focused on clear goals and outcomes.

But marketers often work in reverse. They start using content marketing, because who doesn’t blog and tweet and publish these days. After a while, they realise the need for a documented strategy, so they produce one that attempts to formalise the activities they’re already doing. And then they struggle to justify the strategy in business terms—KPIs, ROI, and so on—because none of these activities were originally devised with the CFO in mind.

Speaking of which…

“These are Not the Metrics You’re Looking For”

Earlier this year, The Fournaise Group released some pretty damning research. In short:

  • 76% of marketers track effectiveness wrongly
  • 77% of marketers believe Effectiveness is primarily about Awareness
  • 71% claim the best way to prove Effectiveness is through measuring Engagement: clicks, views, likes, shares, opens, etc.
  • And, 86% of these “Engagement” Marketers mistake Engagement for Conversion.

“Indeed, these marketers believe that their Engagement KPIs actually prove they generated more business for their organisation, even though they can’t really and unequivocally link these Engagement KPIs to actual business and P&L-related results, and marketing ROI (based on the real and precise finance-driven definition of Marketing ROI, and not the fluffy ones they often come up with).”

These results terrify me because they show how our industry has become increasingly out of step with the business expectations and outcomes we’re supposed to deliver.

Constructing a strategy should always begin with a clear understanding of at least one measurable business outcome that everyone can agree on. This is the source of the ROI; reduced support costs, increased sales, improved lead quality, and so on. If the goal has a measurable value to the business (and you can work with the CFO on this) then the ROI math becomes a lot simpler.

Only then can you work forward to implement the tactics and content assets required to achieve that goal.


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I like your observation that a lot of strategies are created to justify work already happening. One thing a good strategy will do is identify things you should quit doing. If your blog isn’t working or your Instagram page isn’t converting business, a strategy isn’t likely to save them, at least not without significant changes in the approach.

    I often see the preposterous situation where a company won’t invest in a documented strategy until they can be guaranteed of an ROI on the outcome of implementing that strategy. Interestingly, no one I know asks the same from traditional marketing or advertising. It’s an interesting dichotomy.